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Symbol, Avaya Team on Campus Mobility

With 45,000 units sold, the MC50 Enterprise Digital Assistant (EDA) from Symbol Technologies is a popular portable computer that connects corporate users to their enterprise wireless network. Now the hardware has been equipped with a voice over IP (VoIP) softphone from Avaya to give it an extra edge.

Chris McGugan, Senior Director of Marketing for Symbol's Wireless Infrastructure Division, says the Windows CE-based device has had voice support in the past from some vendors who built it in, as the MC50 is "highly customizable." This marks the first time, however, that the VoIP comes with full Symbol support, as it also integrates with the Symbol wireless switch and access port, as well as Avaya's Communication Manager platform for call processing and control.

The integration includes better quality for voice calls thanks to the Symbol Voice Quality Manager (VQM) software client, a small "device resident" program that helps link the MC50's audio capabilities directly with the Avaya IP softphone.

"We think that [VQM] is very important, " says Fritz Ollom, Senior Manager of Marketing in Avaya's Mobility Solutions and Communications Appliances Division. "We've had software out there for some time for things like PDAs, which usually have poor voice quality."

The MC50 looks in many respects like a standard PDA with a thumb keyboard at the bottom, but Symbol says it is more rugged than an iPAQ or any other consumer Pocket PC unit.

At this point, the work on VQM between the companies is exclusive, though Ollom says the deal Avaya has with Motorola and Proxim to bring voice over Wi-Fi to enterprises is still in place. The difference with those partners is that Motorola's handset will support both indoor (WLAN) connections and outdoor connections on the cellular network, with easy handoff. The Motorola handset is still not fully certified by most major carriers, however.

Growth in enterprise WLANs is expected to be driven by voice technologies in the future, according to Synergy Research Group, which tracks sales trends in the market.

Enterprise infrastructure equipment using switches/controllers with thin APs — like the Symbol WS5100 Wireless Switch and AP300 Access Port — recently has seen spikes in sales, while traditional access point WLANs sales have flattened out. While Symbol has usually trailed far behind competitor Cisco in overall enterprise WLAN equipment sales revenue, it has led the pack in "light" APs and switches/controllers. Other research, however, from Infonetics, says that Cisco is closing that gap, jumping to second place in that category after buying out Airespace early in 2005.

Cisco is not resting in the VoWi-Fi space. The company is working with Intel on improvements in voice (and data) communications between Intel Centrino-based laptops and Cisco APs. The two are also providing funding for VoWi-Fi companies like Vocera Communications.